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Attractions of Jamaica: The History of Reggae Music

The Legendary Toots Hibbert of Jamaica in Concert

“Reggae got soul” sings Toots Hibbert. Reggae music is the soul of Jamaica, the music of love, news, social gossip, and political commentary. Reggae originated in Jamaica in the late 1960s from a variety of music styles and has lasted over 50 years. Reggae went international through popular musicians such as Jimmy Cliff and Bob Marley. In 1918, UNESCO added the "reggae music of Jamaica" to its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Toots Hibbert - Reggae Got Soul (1976)

The Origin of Reggae Music

“Reggae” is reported to come from the term “rege-rege” which means “rags” or “ragged clothes”, and this gives you your first clue into the story behind reggae music. When it started out in Jamaica around the late 1960s, reggae music was considered a rag-tag, hodge-podge of musical styles. The term reggae also denotes the modern popular music of Jamaica and its diaspora. While sometimes used in a broad sense to refer to most types of popular Jamaican dance music, the term reggae more properly denotes a particular music style. This music style evolved from traditional Jamaican mento as well as American jazz and rhythm and blues, especially the New Orleans R&B, and evolved out of the earlier genres ska and rocksteady. The immediate origins of reggae were in ska and rocksteady; from the latter, reggae took over the use of the bass as a percussion instrument. Reggae usually relates news, social gossip, and political commentary. It is instantly recognizable as it has a heavy bass and strong second and fourth beat. A 1968 single by Toots and the Maytals, "Do the Reggay" was the first popular song to use the word "reggae", naming the genre and introducing it to a global audience.

Toots & the Maytals - Do The Reggae (1968)

Reggae Themes

Besides its sound, reggae music is associated with common themes in its lyrics. The earliest reggae lyrics spoke of romantic love between a man and a woman. Then, in the 1970s, reggae started taking on a heavy Rastafarian influence. Now the love being sung about was not just romantic love, but cosmic, spiritual love, the love of one’s fellow man, and of God, or “Jah”. They were singing about rebellion and revolution against the forces blocking that love. Forces such as extreme violence, poverty, racism, and government oppression being experienced on a regular basis. Soon after the Rastafarian movement appeared, the international popularity of reggae music became associated with and increased the visibility of Rastafarianism spreading the Rastafari gospel throughout the world.

Bob Marley - Could You Be Loved (1980)

Reggae Goes International

Reggae music reached more popular international acclaim after singer Jimmy Cliff released a movie called “The Harder They Come.” A movie with a powerful socio-political storyline and a strong reggae soundtrack. This sudden global attention and interest in the music paved the way for reggae’s biggest superstar, Bob Marley, to become a worldwide legend, and the name most associated with the genre. Today reggae music has spurred the innovation of a whole new range of musical styles, like modern Jamaican Dub. It has been infused into many other popular genres, like hip-hop and rap. Reggae has spread to many countries across the world, often incorporating local instruments and fusing with other genres. Reggae en Español spread from the Spanish-speaking Central American country of Panama to the mainland South American countries of Venezuela and Guyana then to the rest of South America. Caribbean music in the United Kingdom, including reggae, has been popular since the late 1960s, and has evolved into several subgenres and fusions. Many reggae artists began their careers in the UK, and many European artists and bands draw their inspiration from Jamaica and the Caribbean community in Europe. Reggae in Africa was boosted by the visit of Bob Marley to Zimbabwe in 1980. In Jamaica, authentic reggae is one of the biggest sources of income.

Jimmy Cliff - The Harder They Come (1972)

Reggae Heritage

Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding made February 2008 the first Reggae Month in Jamaica. Reggae month is celebrated ever since in the month of February. The goal of Reggae Month is to attract international acclaim for Jamaica as the reggae mecca of the world; enhance travel and tourism; and provide an educational platform of entertainment for all ages.

In November 2018 UNESCO added "reggae music of Jamaica" to its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The decision recognised reggae's contribution to international discourse on issues of injustice, resistance, love and humanity.

Koffee - Toast (2018)


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